Every day He calls us. He calls each of us to follow Him. He calls each of us to holiness. This is our primary vocation, a word that comes from the Latin “vocare,” meaning “to call.” While we all share this primary vocation, our secondary vocations vary greatly, especially in what we are called to do from day to day. I am called to be a student so that I can live out my call to be a teacher. It’s probably obvious that we need to pray about our bigger vocation (marriage, religious life, and priesthood for the men). But how often do we pray about the smaller ones?
Choosing to come to UNK was part of my vocation, but I don’t think I ever prayed about it. A lot has changed in my life and my faith in the last four years, however. As I started looking to student teaching as early as last fall, I wanted to do this discernment the right way. I wanted my decision to be rooted in prayer and ultimately be God’s decision.
This mindset came into play shortly after I was presented with an adventurous opportunity for my semester of student teaching. For years, UNK and UNL have been sending student teachers down to Alief – an independent school district (ISD) in the southwest corner of Houston, Texas. One of my best friends started expressing an interest in the program early in the semester last fall. Ultimately it was her interest and enthusiasm that sparked a curiosity in me. I started doing research and praying about it.
On some level I think I’ve known for a long time that I would be called to Texas, to Alief. I spent all of the fall semester and the beginning of the spring semester anxious that the answer would be “go,” yet having a strong pull on my heart to keep praying and be open despite the anxiety. Some of it was the result of pride. I’ve known about the Houston Program for years because my cousin did it (and loved it so much she stayed for a few years) and I had always been adamant that that path was not for me. It was from fear of being so far from home, of a very deep and prolonged homesickness. Lastly, my hesitation came from the idea of leaving behind Kearney and all the people and places that have made this city my home over the last three years. This is very cliché, but Kearney is where I found myself, where I learned to identify as a daughter of God, where I have been shown endless hospitality and love and have been given the opportunity to serve others in that same way.
So what changed?
I kept praying through all of these obstacles. Going into this summer of Totus Tuus, I knew that I would need to have my answer by the end of the summer or shortly thereafter in order to apply for student teaching. Late in the spring semester, I began telling anyone who asked that I was 85% sure that I was going to go to Houston. All I was waiting for was that last, definitive answer from God, whether that came in the form of a sign in the sky, a whisper in my heart, or the removal of that last 15% of doubt. As the idea grew on me, I began to fear that it was only of me and not of God. I told Him that if He wanted me to go, He should finish working on my heart and thereby make it clear by the end of the summer.
About a month into the summer, I got the opportunity, finally, to sit down with my cousin Kelsey and talk about her experience teaching at Alief. (At this point I was closer to 92% sure, but I didn’t have my definite answer yet.) Kelsey was not shy about giving me a reality check about how difficult it can be to see and relate to students in such poor circumstances. But she also shared how much they benefitted from her joy, once they started to believe that it was genuine. Kelsey is one of the most joyful people I know, so I was intimidated by her insistence that joy was essential. However, she did not hesitate to affirm me in my joy, as if she could see the self-critical cogs in my brain turning as I questioned mid-conversation whether I could be that joyful. I walked away from our conversation needing only the final “go ahead” from God; (around 98%).
Two weeks later, at the mid-summer retreat for Totus Tuus teachers, I got my answer. I was frustrated because every time I had tried to take it to prayer I would get distracted by something more immediate. As I knelt in adoration, I was thinking (not praying) about all that I would miss if I were to not be in Kearney this spring. When I finally looked up at Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, all I could think was, “I would be so comfortable in Kearney.” And before my exasperated prayer could turn into a fit or a rant, He put an answer on my heart, “you are not called for comfort.” I finally had my answer. The Mass that followed that holy hour was possibly the most distracted I have ever been. All I wanted was to tell everyone the good news! (And look up the phrase, which I had recognized. It is a popular one from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.)
At the beginning of September, I turned in my student teaching application, which included the crucial, hard fought detail that I want to go to Houston to work in Alief ISD. If has been such a joy over the last few months to share my news with friends and family who continue to baffle me with their enthusiasm and support; thank you all.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank those of you that have expressed concern about my future home and have been worried about my dream and plans in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. I ask for your continued prayers for me, but especially for Houston and the rest of southeast Texas.
I come from a very different background than the students I will be working with. I have never experienced disaster, let alone to the magnitude at which they are currently experiencing it. But I do know one thing. My vocation this spring is to share my joy with the students in Alief ISD.